Hate speech controversy: What’s Facebook India doing for damage control?


It seems that social media giant Facebook is mending its way of functioning in India after a report by international media house The Wall Street Journal triggered a huge controversy. In its recent report, the WSJ claimed that Facebook India turned a blind eye to the hate speech by a BJP leader and three other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” to protect the social media giant’s business in India, one of its biggest markets.

The background

Interestingly, the same Facebook that used BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s hate speech on Delhi riot as an example a few months ago to outline its policy regarding dealing with such issue has ignored objectionable content from leaders and workers of the ruling party. The report quoted many former and current Facebook workers as saying that the accounts of those individuals flagged for “promoting or participating in violence”, were spared a ban at the intervention of Facebook India’s public policy executive chief Ankhi Das. Reports claim that the particular BJP leader cited in the WSJ report is Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh. So, what is Facebook doing for damage control? Well, they are taking some steps to rectify their controversial past and also answering about their stand when questioned by the Opposition. In this article we shall look into the ways Facebook is taking to undo their past missteps.

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Facebook’s top India official Ankhi Das with PM Modi. Photo: Twitter

Here are 5 ways Facebook is trying for damage control in India

1. Facebook faced intense grilling by the Opposition

An Indian parliamentary committee has grilled a top Facebook executive after the social media giant was accused of bias and not acting against anti-Muslim posts on its platform. The closed-door hearing on Wednesday followed accusations in newspaper reports that the social media giant was allowing hate speech on its platform and that its top policy official in India had shown favouritism towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP. After the hearing, which lasted three and a half hours with the FB executive facing 90 questions, the 30-member committee “agreed to resume discussions later, including with representatives of Facebook,” chairman Shashi Tharoor said in a tweet. However, discussions of the meeting have not been disclosed yet.

2. Facebook likely to clarify its stand to regional leaders too

The Congress there was a “blasphemous nexus between the BJP and Facebook”. “The aim of the BJP is ‘divide and rule’ and the social media giant Facebook is helping them achieve this,” it said in the statement. Last month, the party wrote two letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to specify steps being taken to investigate allegations against its operations in India.

Regional leaders are also planning to question the world’s largest social media company about its policies regarding hate speech and fake news. The Delhi government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party, said it would call Facebook executives to appear before its own assembly panel for posts it alleges incited violent religious riots in the city in February. At least 53 people were killed in that violence. Opposition parliamentarian Derek O’ Brien from Trinamool, in a letter sent to the Facebook CEO on Tuesday, also said there was “enough material in the public domain, including memos of senior Facebook management (in India)” to show bias favouring the BJP.

3. Facebook has banned a BJP leader for spreading hate

Facebook has banned T Raja Singh, a BJP leader at the core of allegations that the social media giant did not apply hate speech rules on members of the ruling BJP. The politician was banned for violating Facebook’s policy on content promoting hate and violence, said a spokesperson. “We have banned Raja Singh from Facebook for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement, adding that the process for evaluating potential violators “is extensive and it is what led us to Facebook’s decision to remove his account”, said a report.

4. Facebook claims to have taken down hateful content

Facebook on Thursday claimed that it has removed “hateful content” posted by public figures in India on its platform and that it will continue doing so in the future too. Responding to a letter written by Congress party’s general secretary KC Venugopal, Facebook’s Director of Public Policy Neil Potts promised to take corrective measures. “In line with our hate speech policy, we have removed and will continue to remove hateful content by public figures in India on our platforms,” Facebook said in a report.

Facebook official Neil Potts said, “We have a team with deep expertise on terrorism and organised hate, who pay attention to global and regional trends and advise on these matters. These decisions are not made unilaterally by any one person, rather, they are inclusive of different views from teams around the company, a process that is critical to making sure we consider, understand, and account for both the local and global contexts.” In a report, Facebook has also said it would take a non-partisan approach to such matters from now on.

5. Facebook has agreed to ‘do more’ to save the future

“We’ve made progress on tackling hate speech on our platform, but we need to do more,” Facebook India’s managing director Ajit Mohan said on Friday in a statement that denied any bias. “Over the last few days, we have been accused of bias in the way we enforce our policies. We take allegations of bias incredibly seriously, and want to make it clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in any form,” said Mohan. The Facebook India chief defended his company’s actions and said, “We have removed and will continue to remove content posted by public figures in India when it violates our community standards”.

Facebook’s family of services reach more than 400 million users in India. The company this year invested $5.7 billion in top local telecom venture Jio Platforms. Jio Platforms is run by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who is also an ally of Modi. Since India is Facebook’s biggest market, they have to take every step in a very calculative manner to curb the already made damage and start afresh on a positive note. Now it is interesting to see how they manage to do so with BJP having mighty numbers in both Upper and lower House of Indian Parliament.


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